Five ways to build my brand as the journalARTist™

betty ming liu Art, Money, Writing how-to's 10 Comments

Was that really me the other night? Me, lugging a big drawing pad to a packed lecture hall at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism!

I was there for an advanced, sold-out social media training workshop — but not as the typical attendee. With my graphite pencils and pastels arranged on a side table, my mission was to make the first-ever live sketch of this popular event.

You’ve probably heard about artists-for-hire who paint wedding scenes in real time during the actual celebrations. The notion of covering a meeting, though, is quite new and totally challenging…what do you do for visuals when it’s just a bunch of people standing in front of an audience? Ho hum.

Well, there are solutions. As each speaker approached the podium, cartoon-y thumbnails of their faces found their way onto my 18″ x 24″ sheet of poster paper. Their key talking points became notes that filled doodles of little scrolls. Since this workshop was about social media, all the Twitter references were a great excuse to paint in birds that I covered in bright blue glitter.

Working in real time. One page of paper. No second takes. No safety net.

That’s what I call being the journalARTist.

Ooops, make that journalARTist™. Yup, I’m trademarking this baby. And this is indeed a birthing. At last, my dual identities as both journalist and artist have stopped competing for my attention. Now they’re uniting in a single vision that I believe will thrive in our increasingly visually-driven, communications-focused 21st century world. No more schizophrenia. Yay!

The journalARTist was launched on May 16, 2013 at Sree Sreenivasan’s “Social Media One-Night Stand,” a four-hour continuing education workshop offered by my alma mater. If you don’t know Sree, you must meet him. He’s an internationally-known social media expert from the J-school’s faculty who recently made a dazzling leap to become the university’s first chief digital officer.

Here’s a shot of him rallying the troops, along with a look at my drawing pad at the start of the night and then again, near the end:

The crowd was mostly journalists, bloggers and other media professionals. Top social media names shared insider tricks to brand-building with Twitter, Pinterest and more. Btw, the workshop, which is offered at least once a year, provides tons of giveaways, like upgrades on LinkedIn and free trials to interesting websites; great value for $145. For more info, click here.)

So there I was, sketching, sprinkling glitter, painting, taking notes, meeting folks….I ended the evening wiped but happy. What an education in overcoming fear, embracing blank spaces and enjoying other people’s energy. I also learned that pastels rock because they work dry in vibrant colors and smudge beautifully.

Collage, though, was a bust. First of all, the gluing process is wet and messy. And the words that I cut out from various newspapers proved so distracting that I had to peel them off. Many thanks to fab commercial photographer and new friend Greg Lord, for taking this photo of the completed live illustration:


For a larger, high-resolution, readable version of his picture, click here to visit my account. Or maybe these details are enough:

If I could have bottled my experience, it would be a great tonic for building an entrepreneurial approach to daily living. Short of that, maybe you’ll find the following summary useful. This is what I’ve learned so far as the journalARTist….

Five ways to build your brand


Dare to take a chance. Sree and I pulled together this live-sketching experiment just days before the event, via a few emails and one brief phone call. He’d never had an artist at his workshops and I’ve never drawn on-the-spot. So even though we didn’t really know what we were doing, we decided to go for it! Why not!

Stop judging yourself. I had no idea of how to approach this gig until Sree said the magic words. “It doesn’t matter if this is a flop,” he assured me. That trust and generosity on his part freed me to trust myself. No negative consequences. No negativity.

Intuition and spontaneity rules! About 72 hours before the workshop, a word popped out of nowhere into my head: “journalartist.” A few minutes later, it flashed again, but this time as “journalARTist.” Right away, I called an acquaintance who is an intellectual property lawyer. By the next day, he had filed a trademark application for my special word and 24 hours later, I was using “journalARTist” at Sree’s workshop.   

Keep things simple. Looking back, this was the most important lesson. My goal wasn’t to replicate the Sistine Chapel. No one was asking me to prove that I was the greatest artist or communicator. This was just about doing some brainstorming with Sree. We were looking for new ways to make his workshop even more memorable.

Be flexible. Good thing the Staples website has an instant printing service that allowed me to upload the business card that I quickly designed on my MacBook’s iPages. I was able to pick up the cards about four hours later at a store near my house. The only downer was that instant business cards can’t be two-sided. Oh well! That just meant I would hand out two cards to everyone, haha!

That night was the start of some incredible vibes. Sree encouraged his workshoppers to tweet about me in a burst of connections that has continued even after the event:

Going forward, I’m feeling more defined, more complete, more fully sketched out.  Thanks to you all for the love! xo


P.S. — Here’s a list of the speakers from the event. Follow them all on Twitter, and Sree too: 

  • Columbia University’s @Sree
  • LinkedIn’s @KristaCanfield
  • Flipboard’s @Twittner (aka Josh Quittner)
  • OneQube’s @MediaLabRat (aka Robert Moore)
  • StatistaCharts’s @Heddavsw (aka Hedda Schaumann) 
  • Huffington Post’s @CraigKanalley
  • New York Times’ @JenniferPreston
  •’s @CraigSilverman
  • Webby Award-winning blogger @KathyZucker

Comments 10

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  1. I am amazed!!!! You own this completely unique niche with your terrific and divergent skill set. And what BRASS – god girl, you’ve got courage! And your first shot is a total success. I love your cartoon style. Have you seen Maira Kalman’s And Roz Chast’s books? You would love them. I want to get together and hear all about this!!!

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      Jean, thanks for leaving these names. I’ve always loved Roz Chast’s New Yorker cartoons — without realizing they were by Roz Chast! Now I know who she is: I don’t think I like Maira Kalman’s illustrations as much but oh my goodness, she illustrated “The Elements of Style!” And she recently did a book with Michael Pollan…wow. Actually, I really, really love her hand lettering. Big, grateful sigh. This is why I blog….I get marvelous info on stuff that probably would never come up in conversation otherwise. :)

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      Rose, I saw the doublestick tape at Michael’s and….was too cheap to throw it in the cart. Haha. But I have to return some stuff at the store and will seriously consider getting some doublestick then. Thanks for the reminder. Good solutions!

  2. Betty, Was looking at your drawing and saw my cousin, Kathy Zucker in a scroll!! Small world. Love your trademark and innovative “work”.

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      Karen, that is hilarious! She sort of looked familiar to me. And she tweeted me today about you. Haven’t had time (yet) to get on Twitter but will reply to her in a little while. Yes, really, really small world. And thanks for dropping by. :)

  3. Wow, Betty, and, wow again!!
    I feel like a baby has been born, a teenager just got her license and a coed who just graduated college all at the same time! Three separate situations that bring sheer thrill, nervousness, but awesome opportunities. This all leaves me wondering where you will go from here! “Oh, the places you will go!” in the words of Dr. Seuss.

    If anyone is a journalARTist, it is you. I like this label and what it means…I also like that it can mean anything you want it to mean, at any time, and that can change when you want or need it to.

    Covering this meeting at Columbia is probably unlike anything you ever learned at J-School, but don’t be surprised should Columbia come a-knocking to have you hold a lecture, workshop, or teach a class about the art of journalARTistry and branding and/or trademarking.

    I know that you are so 21st century and all, but any particular reason why you didn’t mention all your experience and expertise as a reporter for The Daily News or Newsday? Are you just heading into another direction, your own stamp of journalism (duh, Skye…journalARTist!) or is this an out with the old, in with the new kind of thing?

    Glad you let your creativity and entrepreneurial sparkle at the J-school (with pastels and glitter, too)!

    Out of all the 5 ways mentioned here in this blog post, I like ”stop judging yourself the best! It speaks right to my heart. Screams to it, actually!! “It doesn’t matter if it’s a flop.” Maybe I should try flopping forward, too.

    You make me smile, Betty. Good stuff!

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      Skye, you always make me smile or cry! Thanks for sharing in my experiences. You know, journalism has changed so much. Or maybe, I’ve changed so much. Or maybe both. The bottom line is, in my years as a full-time journalist, I always felt like I wasn’t a “real” journalist or serious enough because I had these other creative interests. And in art classes, I felt that my journalism background made me too formulaic and not enough of a free spirit.

      But thank God I live in the 21st century! So many choices now! Thank God for everything from the GPS and cell phones to the growing acceptance of single womanhood as a winner’s choice for a great life! Glad you relate to “stop judging yourself.” Hard for multi-taskers and high achievers to relax, but we must. I’ve seen what happens to you when you stop judging — your writing breathes and you’re wry/poignant without even trying.

      As to why I didn’t mention Daily News and Newsday experiences, well, hmmm. Maybe I should have. You’re right. Didn’t give it much thought when I wrote the post but thanks for raising this point. Will starting reflecting on it. Hugs to you and thanks for dropping by. xo. :)

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